Long-time fans of the Jewels, who backed up James Brown in the 1960s, will be returning Saturday to the Harmony Hall Regional Center in Fort Washington.
“We’ll be singing some of our hits, like ‘Opportunity,’ ‘Loaded with Goodies’ and ‘Johnny Jealous,’” says member Grace Ruffin, an original member of the group, who lives in District Heights.
Singing with her will be Margie Clark and Sandra Bears, who live in Washington, D.C.
The trio also will sing some holiday tunes, including “The Christmas Song [Chestnuts roasting on an open fire],” immortalized by Nat King Cole.
“We’ve never stopped singing,” says Ruffin, who has been with the group since its start more than 50 years ago.
“We’re friends, and there have been ups and downs, but we always come together to sing,” she says.
Fans will also be able to see the group in a new locally produced documentary called “The Jewels: The Divas of DC Doo-Wop.”
Made by Fort Washington producer Beverly Lindsay-Johnson, the 30-minute documentary aired Tuesday on the WHUT-TV public television station and will be repeated at various times.
Lindsay-Johnson, who today books gigs for the trio, says she first heard the Jewels on the radio in the 1960s when their hit, “Opportunity,” made the music charts.
But it was not until she worked as a producer at Howard University’s WHUT public television station in the District that she got the chance to start a documentary about them.
The project was interrupted when she retired in 2009, but she won permission from the station to finish the film, which screened Nov. 20 at the Howard Theater in the District.
“I knew the basis of their story, but I learned a lot more as I was doing it,” Lindsay-Johnson says.
Teenagers together at Theodore Roosevelt High School in D.C., the girls who became the Jewels would visit guitarist Bo Diddley’s studio in the District after school, where they learned to sing strong harmonies, Lindsay-Johnson says.
After cutting “Opportunity” in 1964, the group appeared at the Apollo Theater in New York, where James Brown spotted them.
Ruffin and Bears toured for a year with the James Brown Review, backing him up on songs such as “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud,” but life on the road wasn’t easy.
Because of segregation, there were places where they “couldn’t stop to eat or go to the bathroom,” says Ruffin, who also says there were places they weren’t allowed to sing.
Traveling also took its toll. Once they took three days without showers going by bus to get from New York to California for a gig, she says.
After a year had passed, Bears and Ruffin decided to return to Washington, and Ruffin went to work for the U.S. Postal Service, retiring after more than 30 years of service.
Through the years, however, Ruffin, Bears and Clark continued to perform, appearing each year at the Prince George’s Community College’s Bluebird Blues Festival and at Harmony Hall and other local venues.
“We do it mostly for the fun,” Ruffin says. “When you have singing in your soul, you’ve got to sing.”
And even though they no longer criss-cross the country or top the charts, they still have a large and loyal fan base.
“The Jewels are like the hometown talent that made good,” Lindsay-Johnson says.
“People here adore the Jewels — even if they had to leave to get a contract, they never [really] left home.”